Social Media and High School Students: Will They Ever Learn?

This first-hand account of the secret digital lives of high school students comes from Cyber Civics team member Peter Kelley, who is a former high school English teacher and current high school coach. There’s an urgent and growing need to equip middle school students with the skills to become ethical, knowledgeable and empowered digital citizens. Every competent mind is able to comprehend this….especially high school students! Having been a high school teacher and coach for the past five years, I’ve (over)heard firsthand how damaging the effects of “digital incidents” can be on students. My curiosity, along with my first introduction to Cyber Civics™—the innovative middle school digital citizenship and literacy program—urged me to investigate further. So I questioned 30 of my

students about whether they felt courses in digital literacy and citizenship in middle school would have been helpful in preparing them for their “digital life” in a high school setting. A resounding 30 for 30 said YES! When asked if a digital literacy program in middle school would prevent future “digital incidents” in high school….30 out of 30 said an absolute YES! Not too surprising if you think about it though. Shelley Glaze, Educational Director at Journey School – a K-8 school in Aliso Viejo, California says, “Immediately following the inception of Cyber Civics at our school, there were fewer problems from social media and cyberbullying, and now they are virtually non-existent. The lessons speak to the 21st century learner. Since the lessons are constantly evolving, they remain current and relevant.” I asked a recent graduate from Journey School, who went through all three years of Cyber Civics, how he felt about the program and if he felt empowered moving into a high school setting with the proper skills and knowledge of digital literacy. His response was, “What I appreciated most about the classes is that lessons are not just applicable to the digital world, but to real life everyday situations as well. Yes, I do feel empowered and ready for high school.”

Another graduate of the Cyber Civics program said, “A lot of high school kids—girls especially—post underwear and bikini shots. That’s not going to look very good for them later in life. They just don’t think about it. I think the regular high school kid isn’t ready for the backlash of social media because they didn’t talk about it like I did in middle school.” Social media runs rampant throughout most every high school. It can be used for good, of course—my high school gained national media attention last year when it protested school administration for taking away a prize of $10,000 for the music department and an on-campus appearance from musical artist Macklemore. A petition to reverse the decision on was posted at 8 p.m. on a Monday and had garnered 6,067 signatures by Tuesday morning. Word spread of the petition mostly through social media and by Tuesday afternoon the school reversed its decision. But the bad and ugly side of social media in high school comes out in the forms of sexting, cyberbullying and addiction.